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Posts Tagged ‘Emperor’

After last week’s 25 Honorable Mentions (in haiku!), Spinal Tapdance will now begin counting down the Top 30 Metal Albums of 2010 in three cheeky installments.

30.  Immolation, Majesty & Decay

A pitch-perfect production job (after two great albums somewhat marred by odd, muddy sound) casts the perfect spotlight on some of the sturdiest, most sideways riffs these New York death dealers have spewed forth in their entire career.  Further proof, perhaps, that the greatest heavy metal often comes from the sincerity and hardworking ethos of blue collar, down-to-earth dudes getting together and howling (or grunting, as appropriate) at the moon.  This is truly the sound of giants among us, and if you haven’t hopped on the Immolation train at this point, I’m not sure there’s much else we can say to each other.  Immolation’s craft is patient and deliberate, but will crush you beneath slabs of sparkling granite just the same.

29.  Shining, Blackjazz

Blackjazz was by far one of the gnarliest records of 2010, coming across like nothing less than an invasion by a hostile race of noise-mongering aliens.  2010 may have been a great year for saxophone in metal (Yakuza, Ihsahn, In Lingua Mortua – the latter two acts featuring guest turns by Shining’s own Jørgen Munkeby), but nowhere did that instrument come across as foreign and antisocial as on this album.  It’s not often that extreme metal finds areas of tonality and experimentalism previously unexplored, but Blackjazz may just be that year zero of a brand-new sound.  Open your mind to the cacophony, and bow down to your new woodwind overlords.

28.  Woe, Quietly, Undramatically


It took me a good while to come around to this album, but when it finally clicked – holy shit.  Melodically inventive, excellently structured black metal that frees itself from the generic strictures of its Scandinavian heritage, without needing to wander off into all sorts of widdly faux-avant-garde-isms.  Tack on to these superbly classy songs the satisfying tormented screams of frontman Chris Grigg, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for real excellence and innovation in American black metal.  “A Treatise On Control” is without question one of best songs to claw its way into the world of metal this year.

27.  Melechesh, The Epigenesis

I keep reading and hearing about how people are all sorts of disappointed with The Epigenesis, in response to which I can only assume that said grumblers have somehow misplaced their ears up their asses.  The masters of Eastern-influence thrashing black madness have queued up another disc full of caustic, biting riffage and esoteric tales of magick and doom.  The way that Melechesh grafts some of the traditionalism of black/thrash onto the less common rhythmic patterns of Turkish music is brilliant, and I am absolutely unashamed to report that I have found myself simultaneously belly-dancing and headbanging to this album.  If I hear you complain that it’s too slow, I will slap you in your ridiculous face with a sack of cantaloupes, and then turn up the record and play it over and over until you are forced to agree that the album is not about pure, unadulterated aggression, but about finding that perfect hypnotic groove, that devilish trancing sweet-spot.  You think, once they get you there, they’ll just let go?  Fuck off.

26.  Fukpig, Belief is the Death of Intelligence

If I were trying to be a pithy little asshole about it, I’d just call this Fukpig record Extreme Noise Nathrakh, and call it a day.  Thing is, that description’s not wrong, but if you’ve missed out on this severely pissed-off album of short, sharp blasts of nihilistic fury, then maybe I deserve to be a pithy little asshole at you.  Whatever – these filthy Britons take the grinding black melodicism of Anaal Nathrakh (with whom members are shared) and marry it to crusty, bulldozing grind in the tradition of Extreme Noise Terror, Napalm Death, old Bolt Thrower, and anything else you like.  Song titles like “Britain’s Got Fucking AIDS,” “Sadism in the Name of God,” and the classic “All of You are Cunts and I Hope You Die” should steer you in the right direction, which is, to whichever bastard record store would dare carry this.

25.  Ihsahn, After

Both of Ihsahn’s previous solo outings were excellent in their own terms, though each came off a bit hesitant.  And with good reason: sloughing off the tremendous mantle of “ex-Emperor” was assuredly no small task (perhaps complicated by Emperor’s reforming to do the festival circuit).  From the first melancholy note of “From Barren Lands,” though, After is all self-confidence, all the time, striking a riveting balance between the unshakable traces of black metal (understandable, as the dude’s got one of the most distinctive voices in extreme metal) and clear progressive intentions.  The guest spots by metal-saxophonist supreme Jørgen Munkeby are probably the easiest aspect to focus on, but the entire album flows smoothly from one triumphant riff to another.  As such, this is the first of Ihsahn’s solo albums to seem ballasted only by itself, freed of that imperial weight.

24.  Darkthrone, Circle the Wagons

Modern-day Darkthrone records are a treasure and a gift to heavy metal at large, and the frequency and tossed-off nature of these recordings should not for one minute lead us to take Mssrs Culto and Fenriz for granted.  Metal gods of single-minded regression, they are, and with Circle The Wagons they’ve delivered up another collection of furiously catchy black/punk gems, this time borrowing even more heavily (or paying more reverent homage to, depending on one’s perspective) from traditional heavy metal.  “Those Treasures Will Never Befall You” and the title track are unparalleled sing-a-long nuggets, while “I Am The Graves of the 80s” will surely serve as a rallying cry to all denim-and-leather diehards who refuse to admit anything has happened since 1987.  And fucking good on ’em.

23.  Sabbath Assembly, Restored To One


The most brilliant thing about this Sabbath Assembly record is that one needn’t even know a thing about the bizarre cult-ish back story to get seriously creeped out and enthralled by the occult rock on display.  Jex Thoth’s vocals are mellow and just a little rough in all the right spots, with the band eventually sounding like we’ve taken some contemporary orthodox black metal fans and set them down in 1967 San Francisco to play praise songs.  This is one of those “This shouldn’t work but hot jumping shit does it ever!” kind of albums, and one that sounds like total rubbish when described, but is pure dark rock magic when heard.  “Hymn of Consecration” gives me goosebumps every single time.

22.  Black Breath, Heavy Breathing

2010 was a great year for all manner of that volatile cocktail of death metal, grindcore, crust, d-beat, and all other types of general nastiness.  Witness phenomenal albums from Early Graves, The Secret, Nails, and the like – still, none of them cut this particular listener quite as sharply as the debut full-length from Black Breath.  By far the most Stockholm sounding of the lot, the songwriting nevertheless remains a dangerously careening blend of teeth-gnashing d-beat and grind fury, yet with a sense of melody seen in all the best of black and death metal’s first waves.  Sort of like if Disfear and Entombed circa Clandestine had a kid, and fed that kid nothing but Murder City Devils and Doomriders.  I don’t know, fuck you – it doesn’t sound like any of that; instead, it sounds like it wants to hunt you down and drink your blood.  So let it, yeah?

21.  Krieg, The Isolationist


In which one of U.S. black metal’s long-running concerns returned after a lackluster (and supposedly final) album – Blue Miasma – only to dive headlong into even deeper waters of nihilistic howling and claustrophobic, psychedelic black metal droning.  This is a seriously impressive album, with perhaps no factor more welcome than Imperial’s devastatingly intense, gut-destroying vocals.  Leviathan’s Wrest sits in to provide some gloriously thick bass, and Woe’s Chris Grigg provides the drumming, so it’s really a family affair.  The Isolationist is both straight-forward and unconventional, with just enough flourishes of oppressive noise and ambient flirtations to keep the listener disoriented and humbled before the almighty hammer of an American band at the absolute top of its game.
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That’s it for the bottom third of Spinal Tapdance’s Top 30 of the year.  Be sure to stay tuned for the rest of the best, and be well, friends.

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Since I had such a lark spinning through some of my favorite accounts bleakness from down Italy way, why not have another go of it?  This time: Germany.  Deutschland.  Sounds ominous, no?  Well, although we could draw further parallels between Italy and Germany (weren’t they both involved in some, shall we say, unpleasantness, this past century?), it is not the shared love of goosestepping but rather a similarly dark and twisted vein of black metal richness that draws me to both nations.  So, allow me to present to you a choice smattering of tasty metal morsels from the only nation in Europe that could have produced the ‘no smiling allowed’ machine music of Kraftwerk and, um, Nena.

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Klabautamann, Merkur (2009)


I’ve also got one of their previous albums, called something appropriately nature-y like Our Journey In The Woods (sorry, too lazy to look it up), which is also pretty good, but holy SSSSSSHIT this album nearly came out of nowhere.  It’s progressive and angular without the obnoxious and pretentious connotations that those terms usually evoke.  It’s aggressive and mental but still explores a pleasantly wide palette of sounds and colors.  Some of the dudes are also in the band called Island, who have a newer self-titled record that I haven’t tracked down yet, but their previous EPs or demos or whatever shit came out a while ago called Orakel, which is well worth checking out.
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Secrets Of The Moon, Carved In Stigmata Wounds (2004)

Don’t know what it is in the water, but there’s a powerful strain of German orthodoxy which seems to have little to do with the Swedish/French style (Ondskapt, Malign, Deathspell Omega, and on and on).  This German orthodox black metal is a bit more measured in its approach, almost stately.  I’m thinking here of Secrets of the Moon, obviously, but also Dark Fortress and, to a slightly lesser extent, some of mid- to late period Lunar Aurora.  This is perhaps the pinnacle of serious, ‘no fun’ black metal, but this album absolutely KILLS it.
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Drautran, Throne Of The Depths (2007)


There’s nothing terribly new going on here, but this album has got an awesome title, really cool cover art, and a masterful take on vaguely pagan-ish black metal.  I know, I know, but before you run screaming in horror to throw on Killers or Defenders of the Faith, this ain’t no tin whistle face-painted bullshit.  It’s essentially a slick take on that ineffable German orthodoxy, without the orthodoxy, while tossing in a whole bunch of classic Emperor-isms.  This album is just all kinds of smooth, and I mean that in the best way possible.
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Vinterriket, Der Letze Winter – Der Ewigkeit Entgegen (2005)


Much like Hellveto or Striborg or (until recently) Xasthur, the one dude behind Vinterriket suffers from a serious lack of self-restraint.  If you try to keep up with the relentless onslaught of new albums, EPs, splits, and ‘Best Ofs’, you’ll run yourself straight into the ground.  Plus, most of this dude’s stuff is, frankly, boring as shit dark ambient.  This album, however, mixes that dark ambient with a furious blizzard of the coldest black metal.  Kinda like Darkspace or Paysage d’Hiver, I guess, but less long-winded than the former, and FAR less eardrum-piercingly harsh than the latter.  This album is fantastically paced and sequenced, and it’s just all kinds of excellent.
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Desaster, 666 – Satan’s Soldiers Syndicate (2007)


Ah, finally.  Some metal during which it is Okay To Smile.  Seriously, you’ve got my permission.  Enough of the dour ‘my lit teacher didn’t like my poetic homage to Edgar Allan Poe’ grumbling.  This is ferocious, accurately sloppy black/thrash.  Play it, then play it again only louder, and hell, why not drink some beers, too?  Then toss on some Aura Noir, who are not German, but share this same sloppy fun metal approach.  Go on.  You deserve it.
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The Ruins Of Beverast, Unlock the Shrine (2004)


Alright, now that you’ve thrashed and smiled to Desaster, Fun Time Is Over.  Well, at least, if you’re going to have ‘fun’ with this album, it is a very SERIOUS kind of fun.  Anyway, this is one dude who was the dude in the band Nagelfar which everyone who ever told you about was very careful to emphasize “No, really, it’s not the same as the Swedish Naglfar, y’know, the guys who are kind of like the kids in the grade just above Dimmu Borgir, who kinda tried to bully them and look tougher but were really just jealous that the young punks were more popular.”  Whatever.  This album kicks ass.  It’s mostly black metal, I guess, but with a cinematic scope.  Replete with non-stupid sampling and non-trite industrial aspects, this is a genuinely spooky affair.  Th’Ruins’ other two records are also good, but this first one is the most finely honed AND experimental.  Tasteful, tasty.  Taste it.
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Geist, Galeere (2009)


Honestly, the cover art kind of tells you everything you need to know about this album.  The band logo tells you it’s at least vaguely black metal, and the creepy almost-capsizing ghost ship reveals a spooky nautical vibe.  And yep, that’s pretty much how the music delivers.  Excellent grim black metal in that Teutonic mold (see also Funeral Procession, I suppose, but definitely Inarborat, for more of this German not-quite-a-scene, not-quite-orthodoxy), but nicely evocative of a doomed seafaring voyage.  Creaking timbers, washes of guitar like huge black waves in the night.  Dive in and seal your watery fate.
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Katharsis, VVorldVVithoutEnd (2006)


This one is also of a sort of orthodoxy, I guess, but more of the Ajna Offensive type than your Dark Fortresses and Secrets(es?) of the Moon.  Anyway, a seriously ghoulish aesthetic, scorched earth sound, and insanely stretched out compositions reveal a demented group of individuals behind this caustic work of bleak black art.  Yeah, the albums before this one were pretty good, and Fourth Reich wasn’t half-bad, either, but this is definitely where it’s AT for the Katharsis (anti-?)ethos.
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I sort of forgot about the whole Prophecy Productions folk-ish scene (with, oh, what do you call ’em, Empyrium and ah, shit… Dornenreich, that’s who I’m thinking of), but maybe if you include them and the whole Lupus Lounge label/scene, I don’t know, does that count as a German scene or sound?  Who cares.  These are some excellent records.  You can trust me; after all, I write a blog on the internet.  Still, all of this goes to show that there’s plenty of blackness that ain’t anywhere near your Norways and Swedens.

It is literally taking ALL of my self-restraint not to exeunt this post with some sort of “something or other über alles” statement.  Let’s call it quits there, before I embarrass us all.  (Un)Happy listening.

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It’s official: Spinal Tapdance is bringing down the Decision Hammer (patent pending) on an entire (and entirely overstuffed) genre to declare The Best Song In All Of Black Metal.

Play it loud and bang your goddamn head:

Darkthrone, “In The Shadow Of The Horns” (from A Blaze in the Northern Sky, 1992)

Perhaps you’ve got a different notion in your cobweb-addled brain as to what the Best Song In All Of Black Metal might be, but I submit to you the following: You are incorrect.  Mssrs Culto and Fenriz politely request that you sit on a crocodile.

I am willing to entertain the suggestion that there are objectively “better” songs out there, meaning more elegantly composed, aesthetically pure, rifftacularly creative, grimly atmospheric, and so forth.  Fine.  But frankly, none of your favored bullshit can hold a Transilvanian Hunger-candelabra to the maniacal dedication of this steamroller of a song.

The lineage is easily traceable, from Venom’s first two albums to Celtic Frost’s early work to Bathory’s genre-instantiating Under the Sign of the Black Mark to this, Darkthrone’s first black metal record.  But that’s just the thing: this one song, this seven minutes of cackling, unhinged black glory, is essentially the intensification – if not perfection – of all that made Venom, Celtic Frost, and Bathory great.

This tune spreads its hungering maw wide, blood-flecked spittle pooling around the wreckage of lesser ghosts; it leers and lurches and lunges and whispers, “Come in and welcome your doom.”

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Sure, there are other contenders from the vast Norse pantheon:

(Or, from the Swedish master himself…)

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Fantastic songs, all.  But gimme Fenriz’s relentless death-stomp of a tempo on “In The Shadow Of The Horns” any fucking day of the week.  Seriously.  And have Nocturno Culto’s vocals honestly ever been as full-throttle and ear-wreckingly hideous as towards the end of this song?

Black metal has ventured down myriad shoots and branches of this first rotted tree in subsequent years, but I’ve yet to hear a tune as corrosively brilliant as this, the Best Song In All Of Black Metal.

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I’ve been thinking lately about the sheer level of inundation that we followers of music face these days.  In many ways, I think this is a fantastic development, particularly with the healthy state of the underground’s manifold scenes and subcultures.  Maybe, on the other hand, that supposed strength is really just a reflection of the crippling weakness of the traditional music industry.  Important questions, but not exactly what I’m concerned with here.

You see, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that I don’t really know my music all that well.  Sure, I know a whole lot about music, but what I’m thinking is, basically, holy shit, I have got so much different music at my disposal each and every minute of every day that there is no way I can possible distinguish between it all.

To that end, I’m forcing myself to do a blind listening test.  I’ve collected all the metal in my iTunes onto a playlist, and I am going to put it on random, turn off my computer monitor so as to disallow any cheating, and then attempt to identify the first ten songs that come up on the playlist.  Find my running commentary below, with the actual results in brackets below each guess.  See you on the other side.
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1.  So, this is a pretty tasty morsel right here.  When it first played through, I was thinking it was something along the lines of the melodic death metal attack of God Dethroned.  Now that this chorus of ‘Stigma Diabolicum’ kicks in, however, I’m pretty sure that this is Austrian black/death metal horde Belphegor.  Definitely from one of their more recent albums, but I sure as hell couldn’t tell you which one.

I’ll take a stab at it, and say I think it’s from that album whose goddamn name escapes me at the moment, but not the most recent one (Hexenwahn whatever), nor from Bondage Goat Zombie, so their third most recent.

[It was: Belphegor, “Stigma Diabolicum,” but that IS from Bondage Goat ZombiePestapokalypse IV was what I was thinking of, but I was wrong to do so.  Anyway, I’m still counting that one as correct.]

2.  Hmm, I’m at quite a loss on this one.  It starts off with some black noise-ish segments, before kicking into some seriously crypt-kicking production, low echoing death howls, and a generally chaotic riff-and-drum attack.  My best guess is that this is from Weapon’s Drakonian Paradigm album.

[It was: Mitochondrion, “Wraithlike,” from Archaeaeon.  Definitely haven’t spent enough time with that record, but I don’t think that Weapon guess is too far off.]

3.  Son of a bitch this is all going to be embarrassing.  This starts off all jangly and reverb-y, so I’m thinking definitely 90s black metal.  But, shit, those vocals are all death gurgly, plus there’s a total Ihsahn howl in there somewhere.  It’s not Emperor, but it might be one of those classic mid-90s black/death hybrids like Dawn or Sacramentum.  I suppose it’s also possible it’s Naglfar or something like that, but the death influence seems a bit too strong for that.

Fuck, I’ve got tons of wild guesses, but no great ones.  Vocals now sound like Jonas Renske’s on Bloodbath.  Hmm.  Maybe I’m forgetting some old more straight-ahead Katatonia side project?  Anyway, I’m going with my first instinct, which was Dawn, from the Slaughtersun record.

[It was: Aeternus, “Dark Rage,” from Shadows of Old.  So, I was totally on the right track with that ‘classic but underappreciated black/death hybrid from the mid- to late 90s’ jag.  Just turns out that I am no better than all the rest at appreciating Aeternus.  Killer tune, although I prefer their first two records.]

4.  Crazy chamber music intro.  Is this from the new Sigh?  Oh, wow.  Embarrassing.  I’ve just mistaken Serj Tankian’s live, all-orchestral run through of his solo album Elect the Dead for Japan’s finest psychedelic black metal blasters.  Apologies to everyone involved.  Anyway, this, for sure, is Serj Tankian.  Tracks called “Money,” I think.

[It was: Serj Tankian, “Money,” from the Elect the Dead Symphony.  Clearly an unqualified win, there, but I kinda want to shave off some points just for thinking it was Sigh.]

5.  Ah, thankfully an easy one on which I will not embarrass myself.  This is Isis.  Or, at least, this is one of the tracks from the double-disc collection of reinterpretations of songs from Isis’ landmark 2002 (?) album Oceanic.  Couldn’t exactly tell you which track this is, but it’s one of the mellower ones, currently playing around with some nice organ tones, and then throwing Aaron Turner’s hoarse bellows out in the middle of this sparse instrumental expanse.  Very cool to hear this fantastic album broken down into its constituent pieces.

[It was: Isis, “The Other,” as interpreted/remixed by James Plotkin, from the Oceanic: Remixes/Reinterpretations compilation.  Success.]

6.  Whoa, that’s a harsh fucking contrast.  At first I thought this was Ildjarn, such is the hideous level of lo-fi noise emanating from my speakers at the moment.  On further consideration, though, my best guess is that this is very early Emperor, from the self-titled/Wrath of the Tyrant CD reissue.  And yet, and yet…  Damn, I’m second-guessing myself something fierce now.  Nope, sticking with Emperor.  Damned if I know the song, though.  Shameful.

[It was: Belketre, “Demzreyavbtre Belketraya,” from Ambre Zuerkl Vuorhdrevarvtre.  SON OF A BITCH.  Of course there is absolutely no reason for you to believe me now, but up there, when I wrote “I’m second-guessing myself something fierce now,” I absolutely was going to say “This sounds like it could also be some of that LLN stuff, maybe Belketre or Vlad Tepes.”  Fuuuuuuck.  Sorry Ihsahn, sorry Norway, sorry France.]

7.  Man, am I really making a poor showing of this.  At first blush, this track sounds like something tribal-ish and noisecore-y (adjectives are not my strong suit this morning).  Gets a bit more blasting, and then when the vocals kicks in, I’m fairly certain that’s Steve Austin’s coruscating howl, so I think this is Today is the Day.  Now that I think about it, that makes good sense, since I think this is from when TITD had Bill and Brann from Mastodon in the band.  So, again, I’ve got no clue on the track title, but I think this is Today is the Day from In the Eyes of God.  Fingers crossed.

[It was: Converge, “Letterbomb,” from When Forever Comes Crashing.  Wow.  Just, wow.  I totally thought this was Converge at first, but then I gradually convinced myself that those vocals were not, in fact, Jacob Bannon but were, instead, Steve Austin.  Shit.  Still, goes to show that either Converge can pull off some fucking metal sounding production earlier on, or that Today is the Day were never as metal as one thought.]

8.  Extended instrumental intro section makes song identification a bit tricky, folks.  Let’s kick in some fucking metal, eh?  Oh, that was the whole song?  Well, fuck you very much.  I don’t know, man.  I literally have NO CLUE what this is.  I’m also about 100% sure that this is NOT a song by The Ocean, but that’s what I’m going to guess anyway.

[It was: Tombs, “Story of a Room,” from Winter Hours.  Man, that sucks.  I really love that record.  Out of context, I guess it’s a lot trickier to match guitar tone to artist.  Still, I knew it wasn’t The Ocean.  Just had to put any old shit down.]

9.  This is a pretty nimble, black/folk attack.  My first inclination is to go with Borknagar.  Yep, there’s good ol’ Vintersorg.  Pretty unmistakable timbre on that dude.  I suppose this could be Vintersorg (the project) as well as Vintersorg (the man), but I think his solo(ish) stuff never got quite so black as this.  So, I’m going to go with Borknagar.  Let’s see, when did Vintersorg join?  I’m going to hazard a guess that this track is from the Empiricism album.

[It was: Borknagar, “The Genuine Pulse,” from Empiricism.  Awesome.]

10.  This is Mastodon.  For sure.  That vaguely Southern-tinged finger-picked acoustic intro was a pretty fast giveaway.  But, sadness of sadness, I’m wavering as to which album this is from.  At first, I was thinking maybe this was from Crack the Skye, given its quite mellow character.  But, hmm.  Damn, this is shameful.  Still, now I’m maybe 80% confident that this is the closing track from Leviathan, which is called, I believe, “Joseph Merrick.”

C’mon, Mastodon, can’t you help a brother out?  Sure would be nice to close out this cavalcade of fuck-ups and metal failures with an unabashed WIN.

[It was: Mastodon, “Pendulous Skin,” from Blood Mountain.  Sweet fucking houndstooth pajamas.  So, despite being totally dead-on about Mastodon, turns out the two albums I was wheedling back and forth between were both the WRONG FUCKING ALBUM.]

(11.  As I was finishing up typing some of these comments, Mastodon faded out, and in kicks the inimitable vocals of Phil Anselmo from Down’s first album, NOLA.  Thanks, dude, for giving me another confidence booster.  Track’s called “Losing All,” but I can’t claim credit, as Anselmo actually tells you that.)

Okay, now it’s time to turn the monitor back on and see just how shittily I’ve done.
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So, I’m giving myself five out of ten.  I know I had the album wrong on a bunch of those, but I’m pleased enough to have just identified the artist correctly half the time.  And honestly, that’s quite a lot better than I thought I would do at this.

The whole point, though, is not to simply pat myself on the back, or subject myself to an extreme bout of self-castigation.  Instead, I think this is really indicative of something.  Perhaps it’s just me, but I have a feeling that I’m not alone in being in the thrall of the unending pursuit of novelty in music.

I just think, maybe, that it’s time we recognize at what cost this ragged, wide-eyed pursuit must come.

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